Health Plans – A Pain to Administer But Appreciated by Employees

Administering health plans is not the easiest task.  Such plans are subject to an alphabet soup of laws, including but not limited to ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, Mental Health Parity, the ADA, the ADEA, and Title VII.  However, a November 2017 American Benefits Council survey may make employers feel better about the time, energy, and resources they spend administering their health plans.

The November 2017 survey shows that employees prefer high quality benefit programs over additional pay by a nearly 2‑to‑1 margin.  This is surprising because many people assume “cash-is-king.”  The survey demonstrates otherwise and highlights how important employer-provided health benefits are to employees.  Read More ›

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Congress Kicks the Can Down the Road Again – Cadillac Tax On High Cost Employer Health Coverage Delayed to 2022

Section 4980I, which was added to the Internal Revenue Code by the Affordable Care Act, was originally supposed to take effect in 2018.  This tax is commonly called the “Cadillac tax” because it imposes a 40% excise tax on high cost employer sponsored health coverage.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act signed into law on December 18, 2015, delayed the effective date of the Cadillac tax to 2020.  And now, in the federal spending bill that was signed into law on January 22, 2018, Congress has again kicked the can down the road with another two-year delay to 2022.  This is welcome news for most employers.  Read More ›

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Making a List, Checking it Twice – 2017

It’s that time of year when boys and girls start making their lists for the holidays, but we in the employee benefits world make a very different kind of list.  In the rapidly changing world of employee benefits and executive compensation law, checklists can be particularly helpful to make sure important issues do not fall through the cracks.  Each year we publish health and welfare, cost-of-living, executive compensation, and qualified retirement plan checklists to help individuals stay apprised of changes in the law, changes that they might need to make to their employee benefits plans, and various notice requirements.  We just published the last of our annual checklists.  Read More ›

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Section 4980H Large Employer Penalties – IRS Signals the Health Coverage Penalties Remain in Force

Many employers were hopeful that the Code Section 4980H penalties would be repealed now that Republicans control Congress and Trump is in the White House.  To date, that has not happened, nor has the IRS announced it will not enforce these penalties.  In fact, in two Information Letters released by IRS on July 16, 2017, the IRS indicated that the ACA Executive Order signed by President Trump when he first took office “does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.”

Senate Republicans are making one last ditch effort to repeal Code Section 4980H.  Read More ›

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Why Isn’t My “Free” Preventive Health Care Free?

In my opinion, one of the best changes made by the Affordable Care Act is the mandate that requires health plans to provide certain specified preventive services without imposing any cost sharing.  This is sometimes referred to as “free” preventive care.  As a result of this mandate, deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and other cost sharing may not be imposed on the specified preventive services if they are provided by an in-network provider. 

The thing that is so great about free preventive care is that it results in better health outcomes for employees and their families, while, at the same time, saving employers from paying larger health claims when illnesses are not diagnosed early.  Read More ›

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Curing What Ails You – Relief for Small Employer HRAs

The impact of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) on health reimbursement arrangements (“HRAs”) has not been favorable.  Many employers got rid of their HRAs or integrated them with a major medical plan in order to avoid significant penalties under ACA.  These rules imposed a significant burden on small employers, because many small employers used HRAs to reimburse employees for the cost of individual health insurance policies they purchased rather than sponsor a group health plan.

In IRS Notice 2015-17, Q&A1, the IRS granted limited relief for small employer HRAs through June 30, 2015.  However, at the end of last year, small employers received greater relief in the form of the 21st Century Cures Act (the “Cures Act”). Read More ›

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Making a List, Checking it Twice

It’s that time of year when boys and girls start making their lists for the holidays, but we in the employee benefits world make a very different kind of list.  In the rapidly changing world of employee benefits and executive compensation law, a checklist can be particularly helpful to make sure important issues do not fall through the cracks.  Each year we publish an executive compensation checklist, a health and welfare plan checklist, and a qualified retirement plan checklist to help individuals stay apprised of changes in the law, changes that they might need to make to their employee benefits plans, and various notice requirements.  Read More ›

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Dealing with Long-Winded Out-of-Network Provider Nuisance Letters

Over the past couple years, more and more of my clients with self-funded plans have received letters from out-of-network providers appealing denied claims.  The letters are usually 20 to 30 pages long, not very specific, and make various accusations against the plan and its fiduciaries. 

Most of the letters follow a standard approach.  They start by alleging breaches of fiduciary duty, they request all sorts of plan documents, and they request additional appeals to which the participant may or may not be entitled.  The biggest problem is that these letters are never very specific in exactly what they want.  Instead, they make vague accusations, and hope some or all will stick. Read More ›

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What is Telemedicine? A Cool Benefit or a Hot Mess?

We’ve had numerous inquiries lately about telemedicine benefits.  My clients most typically ask either “is this a group health plan?” or “is it just access to another provider?”  Clearly, there is much confusion surrounding telemedicine benefits.  Part of the problem is that the regulators have yet to issue guidance on how telemedicine should be treated.  All we can do is take what is a very innovative benefit and figure out how it fits into a complicated, and sometimes outdated, regulatory framework.

Let’s start by agreeing that telemedicine benefits are pretty cool.  With telemedicine, employees can usually see a doctor sooner than if they had to go to a doctor’s office.  Read More ›

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When Anything Less than 95% is a Failing Grade: An Update on the Employer Shared Responsibility Penalties

As a reminder, effective January 1, 2016, employers must offer minimum essential coverage to 95% or more (up from 70% or more for 2015) of their full-time employees and their dependents each month or pay a very steep penalty.  Missing the mark even slightly, for example coming in at 94%, will require the employer to pay a $2,000 annual penalty for each full-time employee (minus the first 30 full-time employees).

The rules are explained in more detail in our Health Care Reform’s Employer Shared Responsibility Penalties: A Checklist for Employers, which I have updated to reflect certain recent guidance.  Most importantly the revised Checklist:

  •  now reflects how the penalties are adjusted each year (see footnote 7 of the Checklist for more information);
    • the $2,000 subsection (a) penalty is $2,080 for 2015 and $2,160 for 2016.
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